Though there are some differences in tone—and a refreshing lack of impromptu convenience-store dance numbers set to “My Sharona”—the Argentinean romantic triangle The Paranoids has the same basic dynamic as Reality Bites, and the same message about young adults holding onto their scruffy integrity. Daniel Hendler plays the Ethan Hawke character, a soulful, unkempt apartment-dweller whose screenwriting aspirations are thwarted by equal parts crippling fear and general unwillingness to engage with the outside world. Walter Jakob plays the Ben Stiller slickster, a superficially charming cad whose runaway success as a TV producer in Spain includes selling out Hendler. That leaves Jazmín Stuart in the Winona Ryder role, dissatisfied with being Jakob’s arm candy and drawn to the somewhat elusive charms of a slacker who can barely peel himself off the couch.
With his feature debut, writer-director Gabriel Medina stops blessedly short of making a big generational statement, but The Paranoids does a fine job of evoking youth culture and attitudes in Buenos Aires, which here doesn’t seem that different from the scene in Park Slope or Los Feliz. Medina has more trouble revealing anything surprising about the three lead characters, who don’t evolve much from their initial impression. Hendler is given the most to do as the chief paranoiac of the title, but Medina substitutes an assemblage of odd quirks—irrational fears of STDs and his doorman, a job as the world’s glummest children’s entertainer—for a clearly defined hero. Still, The Paranoids summons a scuzzy, winning nocturnal ambience, particularly when Hendler breaks out of his funk, hits the dance floor, and does his best impression of Michael Stipe in the “Losing My Religion” video. For a few brief moments, he and the movie transcend their four-walled ennui.